I don’t know where the line originated and I can’t say for sure that it is or is not a play on the oh-so-popular phrase, “mother f*cker”. But one explanation I heard over the weekend when my tennis team competed in the USTA Georgia State Championship tournament is the one I chose to adopt. And it happens to be quite literal.
Mother Hustler means that we are all:
A - mothers and
B - hustlers (as in “go-getters” not prostitutes)
I know my teammates well as their on-court personalities and can certainly attest to their hard-working, goal-oriented tennis attitudes. But I also know them as mothers. Hard-working, goal-oriented mothers. According to salary.com, a stay-at-home mom juggles an average of 94.7 work hours a week with responsibilities such as teacher, daycare worker, laundry operator, psychologist, facilities manager, chauffeur, cook, housekeeper, warden, nurse...need I go on? And from the same source, working mothers juggle an additional 58 hours a week of work at home. Both mom-types pulling more than double-duty every single week. So, if you ask me, you’re not really hustling unless you are mother hustling. And all the while, they put their families first but they also understand the importance of putting themselves at a close 2nd place.
I remember back when we had a very sick child. For years he was cared for on a daily basis by nurses and doctors, family, and friends. But I was at the forefront. My husband had to go to work every day and I cared for our kids. I guess I wore the anguish and exhaustion on my face well enough to get offers from family and friends to stand in for me for a few hours, every so often, so that I could get a massage or catch up with friends or run errands for myself that I’d put on the back burner. But I had a difficult time handing over my caregiving role to anyone. He was my son, after all. I was convinced that it was my sole responsibility to take care of him no matter the sacrifices I had to make. Then one day my friend, E, took me aside. I’d met her through mutual friends who shared similar experiences to ours with their children. E gave me the permission to be selfish. She pointed out that the word “selfish” does not always have to carry a negative connotation. She explained that I needed to find time for myself. To care and enjoy me, myself, and I - just as I was caring for my son and the rest of my family. E told me that it might seem selfish (in the bad way) to indulge in a spa day or a nap or even to share a glass of wine with friends, but instead, what it really did, was to help rejuvenate and strengthen my selflessness. It made me a happier and more relaxed person. Happy mama fears no drama. If I care for myself, I’ll be better equipped to take care of my family. I took E’s words to heart and still find them to be absolutely true today.
Traveling to Columbus, GA for the state tournament was one of those well-deserved "selfish" departures. It was clearly something we chose to do for ourselves. But it wasn’t a substitute for a vacation. It wasn’t like a wild girls' trip to Nashville collecting free drinks up and down Broadway and getting kicked off stages by bands unappreciative of our background vocals. Nor was it a mud-dipped rejuvenation of body and spirit to improve our overall health and well-being visit to Canyon Ranch Resort. Instead, it was a pure, unadulterated, down and dirty (and it got a little dirty) athletic competition in search of the championship title that we were all after.
Our families didn’t attend like the plethora of soccer, baseball, lacrosse, and cheerleading events we’ve attended of theirs but would never have chosen to miss. Maybe they were absent at our tournament because they didn’t want to sit in the searing Georgia heat to watch 40-something women play tennis or maybe it was because of scheduling conflicts or maybe they flat-out weren’t invited. It didn’t matter to us because we were there for ourselves and our teammates and that’s all.
We saw some pretty stiff competition from the get-go and the heat was on. Meaning that the Georgia weather represented itself as expected and wrapped us up in a dense blanket of humidity for the duration of the tournament. Regardless of the weather, on day one, we brought it! We snatched up the 1st round of play with a 3-1 win. The 2nd round was just as challenging and again we pulled away with a 3-1 victory and found ourselves in the running for first place going into Saturday.
We celebrated the day in the parking lot of the tennis center, being mindful not to flaunt our rolling cooler filled with refreshments but quickly decided to move the party to the hotel. Dinner ideas got tossed around and a few more beers got poured down our throats as we communed poolside. Soon the consensus was to order pizza and eat in. We feasted only as unsupervised moms could and then satisfied our sweet toothes with an over-endulgence of chocolates and Twizzlers while sharing stories, and playing games. During a round of a game called, "Would You Rather" we dug deep and contemplated our willingness to fully give of ourselves to a friend in dire need. Eventually, the group was split down the middle....if stranded on an island and food was, for some reason, unattainable, half said they would use an expired companion as nutrition and would also allow the reverse. We decided a t-shirt was in order with the catchphrase, "Eat Me" to make the intent clear.
Day 2 of the tournament started out with "blunch" at the local First Watch eatery. I know, it's typically called "brunch" but after a heated discussion the night before on the mere existence and necessity of a meal between breakfast and lunch, it was decided that "blunch" was somehow easier to swallow. As we feasted once again (this time sans alcohol as the restaurant was still awaiting their liquor license) we got down to business and discussed the strategy for the upcoming match. Player stats were analyzed, line-up possibilities and probable match-ups of the opposing team members were considered. We knew our opponents had a blunch-time match while we had a bye-round and in light of the arduous humidity in the air, we examined the idea that our opponents might opt to put fresh legs in the crucial matches rather than their strongest lineup. Or would they? It really had us scratching our heads as we went round and round, hashing and re-hashing all the available options our opponents could deploy. Then D tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Look at this", holding her phone in front of me. Her screen was filled with a picture of the cutest dog I'd ever seen! "Oh my gosh, I love him", I exclaimed. My excitement was infectious and soon the phone got passed around the table as all the ladies OOOed and AWEd over a 2-dimensional image of a stranger's dog. No one really cared about the lineup. It was what it was.
We had to win our 5th round in a pretty commanding way to stay in the tournament. But we knew the reputation of the team we were meeting. It was thrilling and intense to watch our team battle against our worthy opponents. Lots of cheering and encouragement from the sidelines from both teams with D's exhortation perfectly illustrating the delirious ferocity of the moment, "C'mon girls! Let's open up that whoop of can ass!" As hard as we tried, we were bested by our opponents who just happen to hail from a neighboring city to ours back home. I thought it was pretty remarkable that 2 teams from the same county qualified to represent at the state championship. One could argue that the quality of ladies' tennis in North Fulton County Georgia is top-notch! (If I do say so myself!)
Armed with camaraderie, team spirit, friendship, and a giddiness felt by mother hustlers devoid of their family and professional responsibilities for several days, we headed into happy-hour for the 3rd day straight. Yeah, we did! Too many skinny margaritas later, we put together the lineup for our final day and decided to top the night off with more games!
I have to admit. Since I found out that I'd be playing in the final round, I contemplated calling it a night when we returned to our hotel. I assumed my teammates would appreciate that I was forgoing another night of shenanigans for a restful evening in preparation for bringing home a win. After a quick conversation with my husband to catch up on how the family was doing without me, I lie on my bed wording the message in my head which would tell the ladies of my plan to retire for the night. Then a team text came through..."9 o'clock Fish Bowl game in S&A’s room." Did I really want to be a party pooper? No. So I went.
I could hear the high-pitched, high-volumed voices just as I got off of the elevator and the room I was headed to was at the absolute end of the hallway. These 40-something mother hustlers after 3 days of zero responsibilities had essentially become 12-year-old girls again. I opened the door and was greeted with a roar of cheers. Then the requirement was served up, "You have to do a cartwheel to enter the room!" Jumping and clapping and cheering ensued to root me on. Really? I'd never done a cartwheel in my life and barely knew the general mechanics of what to do. All of a sudden, my husband's suggestion to initiate a pillow fight seemed like a much better idea. Hands raised in the air I prepared for take-off. Fear of impending disaster overcame me and an image of pulling a groin muscle and finding myself benched the next day stiffened my body. All I could do was crouch down, put my hands on the floor, and hop my feet over to one side. It sure wasn't pretty and I'll bet someone got it on video for a future blackmail opportunity but I fulfilled the obligation and maintained the elasticity of my groin as well as my spot in the lineup the next day. Crisis averted! Or so I thought.
What impresses me most about this group of ladies is how we've bonded as a team. It's truly a, "one for all and all for one", "there's no 'I' in team", "teamwork makes the dream work" type of union. We are every colloquialism there is to represent the basic idea of working together to accomplish one goal. But for this game of Fish Bowl, our one team was divided into 2 teams. Why I thought we'd have a friendly game is beyond me. Each team bonded quickly and knew without speaking that the objective was to formidably take down the other team. If an opportunity was available to crush them, we'd do that too.
Fish Bowl is a guessing game with a round of clues, then a round of charades, and then a round of one-word clues describing random phrases, words, titles, actions, etc. secretly suggested by each of us. The bowl was filled with small pieces of folded-up paper with very interesting choices written on them. Some of my favorites were: hairy back, gimme 3 steps, tea bag, Thor, "there's two O's in 'Goose'", and big balls. (I told you we were 12-years-old!) And the one that made me feel stupid, "scope creep". Never heard of it but when it was explained to me I realized I'd been a victim many times of this shady type of character including the contractor who we are currently working with to renovate our house! I can't wait to call him that to his face! The game was challenging but great fun! As you'd imagine, the twelve of us got pretty rowdy. Accusations of cheating, poor time-keeping, unfair judging, and interference threaded their way throughout the entire game. It was awesome competition even though my team lost.
But the other team cheated.
We came, we saw, we conquered on the final day of the tournament, pulling out another 3-1 win over our opponents. The last match on the courts came down to an epic 20-18 tie-breaker for the 3rd set and our "do or die", "leave it all out on the court" mother hustlers prevailed complete with inexplicable on-court dancing, mid-point conversation, and shot-making sound effects. It was pure entertainment.
We celebrated our team, our wins, our passion for tennis and competition, but most importantly, our being together and banding as one. We donned our mother hustler hats proudly as we exited the facility while we searched on our phones for a place to have lunch to end our journey with yet another feast. But we soon realized that the journey was done and all of us mothers needed to hustle back home. T just had her offer accepted on a new house. L was headed to Cooperstown to catch up with the rest of the family. L was planning a birthday party for her 16-year-old son, and I was catching up with my family because the last time I saw them 3 days ago, we'd just moved out of our home. We all had things to do and loved ones to get back home to. But for the few days when we "selfishly" put ourselves first, we worked hard, played hard, laughed, cheered, cried, and threw bananas. Whether they know it or not, our families are so much better off that we had this experience. So, I‘ll say to them, on behalf of all of us,
"You are very welcome."